Yesterday’s post about Marianne Faithfull prompted me to rework one about The Rolling Stones that I wrote on Facebook last year and, because it happened at a Stones gig, add a bit on the end about the one and only time I met Dylan.
Although I had the odd close encounter with The Rolling Stones I never interviewed them at any length for MM or travelled around with them like I did with The Who, Led Zep, Slade etc. Other writers got there first, and this was fine by me. The first time I saw the Stones was from the balcony of London’s Roundhouse on March 14, 1971, and I came away impressed, but eight nights later at the Marquee Club things were very different. This was an invitation-only affair at which they were being filmed for a German TV special ‘Live From London’s Marquee’. During a break between numbers Keith Richards decided he didn’t like a Marquee sign that hung over the stage and tore it down. Harold Pendleton, the Marquee’s owner, objected and in the ensuing argument Keith bashed him over the head with a translucent Perspex guitar. I believe it was a delayed reaction to a number of grudges the errant Stone bore against Pendleton that stretched back to the days when the Marquee preferred trad jazz to the kind of music the Stones played.
Either way the incident soured an evening that was already in terminal decline, largely because the Stones seemed unable to perform competently or even finish a song. Time after time they came unstuck midway through a number and had to begin again. After an hour or so of this many of those present sloped off to the bar, which caused Mick to lose his rag and order everyone out. We all trooped outside to where a large crowd of fans had blocked Wardour Street, smirking somewhat and heading for nearby pubs. The official word was that the ‘audience was not showing sufficient enthusiasm’ but it was a PR disaster on the eve of their self-imposed tax exile to France.
Just over two weeks later, on April 6, I was among a press contingent celebrating the Stones’ signing with Ahmet Ertegun’s New York-based Atlantic Records label which was about to release Sticky Fingers, the prologue to their masterpiece Exile On Main Street, for my money the greatest album they ever made. At Atlantic’s expense I and maybe ten others flew on a private jet to Nice, attended a party with the Stones at a beachside restaurant in Cannes, and spent the night in the swish Carlton Hotel. The host on this trip was former Beatles PR Derek Taylor, then the Special Projects Manager at WEA in London, who was in his element orchestrating a lavish knees-up like this.
My report on the party (and brief chats with the Micks Jagger and Taylor) can be found on Rock’s Back Pages but what I didn’t mention is that Keith nicked my gold-plated Ronson cigarette lighter, a 21st birthday present from my dad, which I was foolish enough to leave on the table where he was sat when I nipped off to the loo. Of course, I can’t say for certain that he was the culprit but he was certainly sitting opposite my fag lighter when I left the table and he was sitting there when I came back and noticed the lighter had disappeared. Bearing in mind how Keith had dealt with Harold Pendleton at the Marquee, confronting him seemed unwise so I stayed silent. Never forgot though.
The next day the private jet took us to Geneva for the simple reason that Derek was fond of a restaurant that overlooked the giant fountain that gushes upwards from the lake. Limousines ferried us into town and we took lunch there, and a very nice lunch it was too, then flew home. Looking back on the jaunt now, it seems to typify the ridiculous extravagance that was endemic in the record business in the early seventies. Still, I wasn’t complaining.
The next time I saw the Stones was on May 1, 1975, in New York, playing on the back of a flatbed truck on 5th Avenue at 9th Street, a surprise press stunt to promote their forthcoming tour of North America. I and many others were waiting in the nearby Fifth Avenue Hotel where they were expected to arrive for a press conference and we all rushed outside when we heard ‘Brown Sugar’ being played. Traffic was halted, a rapidly accumulating mass of fans blocked the streets and after distributing leaflets to astonished passers-by Mick and his men jumped off the truck into waiting limousines and sped away.
I caught one of those shows at Madison Square Garden at the end of June, but what I remember most about it is not the giant inflatable cock that appeared on stage and caused so much trouble in the God-fearing states down south but being introduced to Bob Dylan, my only encounter with the great man. My friend Peter Rudge, then tour managing the Stones, had given me a couple of backstage passes and among those lingering in the corridor that led to the dressing rooms was Dylan himself, carrying a large flagon of white wine from which he was drinking copiously. I had never met Bob Dylan and when I spotted Rudge I asked him to introduce us. We walked over to where he was standing and Rudge tapped him on his shoulder, interrupting a conversation he was having with a pretty girl in a red dress.
“Bob, this is Chris Charlesworth from Melody Maker,” said Rudge.
Dylan looked at me and squinted. I was pretty sure he was drunk.
“Melody Maker?” he slurred. “How’s Max Jones?”*
“Max is fine,” I said. “I’ll tell him you asked after him.”
“You do that,” said Dylan. Then he turned away and resumed the conversation he was having before I intruded.
Come to think of it I’d have preferred to talk to the girl in the red dress too.
* Max Jones was Melody Maker’s long serving and much distinguished jazz writer who in late 1962 had encountered Dylan on his first ever visit to London. Max met him and, unlike many others, was supportive, and two years later interviewed Dylan on his second visit to the UK. Dylan never forgot.